At first, the fossil was smuggled out of Mongolia, as many dinosaurs are. It found its way to Japan, then Britain, then France. In 2015, the private collector who finally bought it contacted the paleontologist Pascal Godefroit to get his opinion on the specimen.
Godefroit’s opinion was: This is one weird dinosaur.
The creature was clearly a small predator, much like Velociraptor. Its feet even had the distinctive sickle-shaped claws that clinked across the kitchen floor in Jurassic Park. But its long neck and tapering snout resembled those of a swan. Its arms and hands also had unusual proportions—something halfway between the grasping limbs of other raptors and the flattened flippers of modern penguins. It looked like a Velociraptor that had adapted for life in the water—that is, if it was even an actual dinosaur.
“It was so strange that we suspected that it might have been a chimera—a mix of different skeletons glued together. It wouldn’t be the first time,” says Andrea Cau from the University of Bologna, who joined Godefroit’s investigation. “We had to be sure that it was a real dinosaur and not a fake.”
Since most of the animal was still encased in a 15-inch block of stone, the team took it to Grenoble, and scanned it using a particle accelerator. The scans showed that the block was a solid mass that hadn’t been assembled from separate pieces. And the parts of the skull still within it were identical to those on the outside, as were the hidden arm bones. This swan-necked, duck-snouted, almost-paddle-limbed, sickle-clawed creature was assuredly weird—but it was a real dinosaur. (Cau notes that the scans are all openly available in case any other paleontologists want to check them.)